Like most Isles blogs, this site gets occasional visits from Switzerland -- no doubt checking in on favored son Mark Streit. Which reminds me that I probably haven't praised Streit enough this season.
I mean, he's routinely cited as the Isles' best, steadiest player, but it's remarkable what he's done this season considering the rest of the roster and the constant injuries to the blueline. Outside of Streit, the rest of the Isles top seven defensemen have spent significant time on the shelf this season. In a tough season, Streit's a terrific story.
At the top of the league in defensemen scoring. Logging 25 minutes per night. Routinely facing the opposition's first or second line, with solid relative GF/GA figures to justify it. Keying a solid Islanders PP (and conversely, precipitating the Canadiens' season-long PP funk). Kudos to Garth Snow for bringing him in. Hopefully Streit is rewarded with an All-Star Game honor this afternoon. [Update: Wish granted.]
New York Islanders (12-25-4, 30th) at Canada's Team-Stealing Scoundrels (24-12-4, 3rd/West)
9 p.m. EST | [suspicious growth] Saddledome | MSG+2 (twice the plus!)
The Flames are atop their division and recently throttled the Sharks. Que? It's difficult to understand a Mike Keenan team keeping its head above water today, in these 2000s. The 1980s, yes. 1988-94, fine. Two-thousand-oughts -- what in the name of Atlanta is going on here? The magic of a Sutter keeping him in line?
My pet theory: The post-lockout return to enforcing the rulebook as written actually favors Keenan's looser style. See, the trap era destroyed Keenan teams -- all four of 'em -- because Keenan has always been about motivating his teams, by penalty of death, to forecheck the hell out of the opposition. But the trap era was all about undermining skating teams by spilling quicksand all over the ice and pretending the game is more fun when sticks aim first first for a spleen, second for a groin, and third for -- should occasion arise -- a puck.
You might think Keenan's getting it done with goaltending, since Kipper rose to stardom at the close of the cap era. But Keenan also turns goalies into headcases (see Joseph, Curtis), and Miikkaa Kiippruussoff's stock has actually declined some since that 2004 Cup final, He's not carrying the team on his back -- and the at times overrated Dion Phaneuf is even having a mediocre season thus far, while carrying 27 minutes a game.
Check out some recent Flames fan assessments:
Kent at Five Hole Fanatics: As for Kipper, I think that he peaked a couple of years ago and is just...mediocre now. He's good enough to win games on a capable club, but isn't going to carry anyone to victory and certainly isn't going to be challenging for any Vezinas or Conn Smythes. I'd love to be wrong on this count, but there's a large (and growing) body of evidence that Kipper is probably overpaid by about 3M or so at this point.
An anonymous but measured response, which hints at the Keenan style mentioned above:
I am often quick to chime in and defend Kipper because one of my strong beliefs is that goaltending is more related to team play than we often like to think. ... Kippers downward trend is in part due to a coaching philosophy change: Defense first yields great results for goalies. Keenen isn't run and gun, but he's no Sutterite trap-master either. More fun for us!, less fun for Kipper. ... He is not playing the goaltending we want ie. .930 save percentage and lights out every night. ... BUT I think he can still win loads of games, steal a few and win series' perhaps. Vezina or Conn-Smythe? not bloody likely.
Of course, before I get carried away, longtime Calgary writer George Johnson implies Kipper -- not named to the West All-Star team -- has carried the Flames to the top with a recent uptick in his play. Hmmm:
He only lead[s] the league in goaltending wins, at 24, and has come on incredibly strong to push his GAA below 3.00 (2.86), save percentage over .900 and team to unexpected heights.
Ah well. Either way, the Flames are hot (eesh, sorry, no pun intended). They represent a huge threat to keep the Islanders winless on this four-game, umpteen-thousand-mile Western road trip.
Oilers, these Flames are not. So I can't see the Isles in a "shoulda won" situation tonight. They'll need luck and some magic from Rick DiPietro, who -- along with Radek Martinek -- juuuust might play tonight. Godspeed.